If People Calling You A Nazi Turns You Into A Nazi, The Nazi Was In You All Along
I am so, so sorry to do this to you guys, but I'm gonna have to write about Bari Weiss again. Well, not Bari Weiss specifically so much as a ridiculous thing Bari Weiss said that a lot of other people also say. A thing I have been itching to yell about for some time now.
On Friday, Weiss tweeted that articles like a recent Vanity Fair article about Kanye West are what is pushing people into the loving arms of the alt-right.
Clearly, Weiss did not even actually read the article in question -- which, by the way, does not call New York Times writer Bret Stephens far-right, but rather mentions him as someone who appears in videos produced by Prager U, as an example of the kind of media conservatives are producing these days.
The trend toward conservative influencers has also given a boost to Prager University, a massive media platform that pumps out slickly produced explainer-type videos by firebrands like former Google engineer James Damore, pro-Trump sheriff David Clarke, publishing exec Steve Forbes, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, and National Review editor Jonah Goldberg, all of which somehow manage to coexist. According to Buzzfeed, PragerU, as it’s known, is on track to hit a billion page views in 2018.
Weiss was swiftly called out on Twitter by her colleague, New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, for suggesting that Vanity Fair articles were forcing white people to become white supremacists.
Weiss is, unfortunately, not alone in this sentiment. We've all been hearing it for years. This "Well, if you're going to call me a racist or a sexist or whatever, than I guess I just WILL be that thing! So there!" shit.
That. Is. Not. A. Thing.
I have been called many names in my lifetime. I have never decided "WELL THEN, I will just be that mean thing you just called me! That'll really show you!" People who get called "shitheads" rarely go and say "FINE, I will just fashion a hat out of human feces and then wear it around everywhere! Take THAT."
People who are not racist or sexist or anti-Semitic or alt-right do not suddenly decide that these things are fabulous and worthwhile things to be, merely out of spite. And I say this as someone who probably never would have accomplished anything in her life were it not for spite. Just like Dorothy Gale had the ability to go home all along, they have been these things all along. It is just that this gives them an excuse to, as they used to say, let it all hang out.
Now, let's say you are a person who does not want to be a bigot, who says something they did not realize was problematic. This happens! I thought the word "gypped" was spelled "jipped" (I'd never seen it written down that I was aware of or remembered) so it literally just never occurred to me that it had anything at all to do with the Romani people. I said it out loud once, and someone said "Dude, do you know what that means?" and then they explained it to me, to which I responded "Oh shit, sorry -- I seriously had no idea." It was not a big deal. I've never said it again and I am very glad that person cared enough to explain this to me, because I do not want to go out into the world saying things like that.
This kind of thing plays out very differently when you are dealing with someone who does think racist or misogynistic things but avoids saying them out loud because they don't want to deal with the social consequences of being known as a gross racist or misogynist. They're not turning racist or sexist, they're just deciding that if they have to deal with the social consequences anyway, they may as well just be the asshole they truly are inside. When they see that other people are not getting away with dog whistles, are not getting away with couching their shitty beliefs in scientific racism and "evolutionary biology," they decide they don't really need the facade either.
This is supposed to be a threat -- they are holding common human decency hostage by saying "If you all insist upon making it socially unacceptable for me to be a stealth Nazi, I will be a loud and proud Nazi, and you will live to regret it!" But it's an empty threat because that is who they actually were all along.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse